If you’re not familiar the BDSM scene, then it may come as a surprise that the dominant/submissive relationship is one between equals. Okay, so it’s a lot more complicated than that. To put it simply, respect and trust are key words that I often hear in my conversations with self-identified submissives. To do such a complicated topic justice, I thought I’d ask them to tell it like it is.
“I figured out why I prefer to take on the submissive role,” a 23-year-old female submissive confided in me. “It’s because in every other aspect of my life, I’m the one who’s always in charge, I’m always the one who has to be responsible. So it’s nice to have that opportunity to let go.”
When asked about the pain endured by flagellation, needle-play, fire-play or what have you, she adds, “I think it changes depending on how the pain is inflicted.” This would mean that the dominant is going to have to be flexible according to what it is she will enjoy that day. The level of pain may also depend on the dynamic between dominant and submissive.
Jay Wiseman is a former ambulance medic and law professor who explores sexuality, relationships, and BDSM. Much of his writing draws on his experiences with BDSM matters. In his book, SM 101, he writes, “BDSM is a small part of your life, just like many other small parts that make up your life.”
So in this sense, not everyone can be entirely dominant or submissive, but rather enjoy doing a variety of small things that gravitate towards submission or dominance. So what you could possibly draw from all that is that the pain is the communication between partners.
That said, it should not come as a surprise that when BDSM is in the wrong hands, it can be very dangerous. “That is exactly the reason why a serious effort should be made to establish boundaries, to respect each other, and to know when to say ‘no’,” explained a female submissive in her 50s. “If you have a dominant who can’t respect it, you need to leave the relationship… However, you may be unable to escape because you’ve given this other person all this power over you.” Unfortunately, it is that side of BDSM that gets more attention from the media and popular culture (read the books Story of O or 50 Shades of Grey for an even more misleading example).
Looking back through history, the term submitting is often associated with being destroyed, humiliated, crushed, oppressed, or any of a dozen other negative words. Responding to this, a male 35-year-old submissive commented, “But that’s not how I feel when I do it, and I don’t feel as though other people in the scene see me this way.” He also added that ‘bottoms’ should ‘own’ their submission, and that you alone are responsible for your own kink: “There seems to be all these negative impressions of what submissive men are, or make assumptions about what I should do or how I should act, as in be a doormat.” He explains that just because he is submissive, it doesn’t and shouldn’t change the fact that he can feel strong, proud and dignified.
A submissive is responsible for their own kink, but the dominant has to assume responsibilities as well. A 51-year-old male sadist asserted that, “Even while you are dominant, you still need to understand the pain that you are inflicting on others.”
Reflecting on what these submissives have said, these individuals haven’t been coerced to submit under the power of a dominant. In fact, they’re using their autonomy to gain pleasure in a non-conventional way.
SM 101: A Realistic Introduction by Jay Wiseman
Different Loving: The World of Sexual Domination and Submission by Gloria G. Brame, William D. Brame & Jon Jacobs
The Loving Dominant by John & Libby Warren
To read more about Jay Wiseman’s BDSM related essays click here.